Lutefisk, or chicken-and-waffles?


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If President Trump had his way, we’d be a country where more immigrants have come from Norway than Haiti.

Imagine what our national culture would be like today if Scandinavians had dominated the Deep South and African-Americans had settled mostly in Minnesota.

We’d have chain restaurants serving lutefisk instead of barbecue or chicken-and-waffles. Pull up to the drive-through window. No aromas of sweet, crunchy waffles topped by crispy fried chicken; you’d get the smell of salt-dried whitefish chunks soaked in water for up to 10 days and in lye for two days. The result is jelly-like. Add a traditional side of mashed peas. Sole food, not soul food.

Forget rock-n-roll, hip hop, blues and jazz. There’d be no drumline competitions, just fiddling festivals. No steppin’, just a kind of minuet incorporating the chicken dance. Ice hockey, not basketball.

Would the U.S.A. still be a great country? You betcha!

chicken and waffles

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Red-Tailed Hawk

The woman at Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources tried to reassure me that capturing an injured red-tailed hawk was doable.


Photo from


Get a box, a towel and a pair of thick gloves, she said. Throw the towel over its head so it can’t see. Pick it up from behind and put it in the box.

From behind?

“You don’t want its talons to get you. Hold it away from your body.”

A moment of silence followed while I regarded the curved claws on the bird, picturing how easily they’d pierce flesh. She heard my hesitation.

“It’s really not that hard,” she said into the phone.

As the bird glared at me, I noticed the sharp tip on his beak, used to rip bloody chunks of flesh from prey. The notion of grappling with this predator looked risky.

The hawk and I were just off Interstate 65 in Gary, Indiana. Mention this town to anyone who doesn’t live here and they’re likely to think of steel mills belching pollution or a deserted downtown of boarded-up, graffitied buildings. They wouldn’t be wrong, but there’s more to the place than that.

There’s a surprising amount of still natural land. Patches of open prairie, forests and dunes stretch in a series of local and national parks along Lake Michigan from Chicago to Indiana’s western boundary and beyond. In my neighborhood abutting one of these parks (and often in my yard), it’s common to see deer, coyotes, sand hill cranes and occasionally even an elusive fox.

Red-tailed hawks are common, too, typically circling high above the trees. This one, however, had perched on a guard rail along the highway just before an exit. He was impossible to miss – maybe 15 inches tall, as big around as my cat. His back was turned to the traffic as if he wouldn’t deign to acknowledge it. His bearing exuded invincibility. You couldn’t tell he had an injury that amounted to a death sentence.

I pulled my car onto the shoulder and edged it closer, hoping to gawk at him for a minute.

His head swiveled. He saw the car creeping up and tried to fly away. I could see that half of one wing was almost broken off and hanging limply. He couldn’t gain altitude or get far. He landed about five feet below the guard rail on the downward slope of a weedy berm.

Now that he was on the ground away from the busy highway, he was even more vulnerable to predators – raccoons, foxes, great horned owls. I’d made his bad situation worse.

After talking with the woman at DNR, I drove home and assembled the recommended equipment: a cardboard box, a cat bed to cushion the bird, a large beach towel, a pair of leather gloves and a pair of insulated barbecue gloves to put over those.

He hadn’t moved when I returned 25 minutes later. I put the box with the cat bed in it on the ground, donned the two pairs of gloves, unfolded the towel and slowly advanced on him from behind.

Again, his head swiveled. He turned his body to face me. With each step I took, his unbroken wing lifted higher, his feathers puffed further out and his beak opened wider in warning. It felt like he was daring me to look down his gullet. I imagined being a small animal struggling under his talons as that sharp point lowered towards its meal.

His yellow eyes never wavered. He showed no fear. He was all threat.

Three feet from him, I froze. Fortunately, the U.S. Army came to the rescue.

A young soldier, seeing a woman on the berm holding a beach towel open on a gray January day, pulled over to find out what I was doing and whether I needed help. He hadn’t seen the hawk. The sight of it impressed him.

Still, this was a combatant he could easily handle.


Still from YouTube

He held the towel in front of him so it shielded his entire body; only his head and his booted feet were visible. The bird ended his threat displays. The soldier slowly stepped closer, talking softly to it, until the two stood toe-to-talon. He dropped the towel. Then he bundled the bird, gently lowered it into the box and placed the box in the back seat of my car. He even strapped the seat belt around the box to keep it from tipping.

It was a half-hour drive to the DNR-designated vet who would take the hawk. The back of my neck prickled the whole way. The bird was secured in a box with a lid weighted down by my purse, but I was nervous. How strong was he? Could he bust out? I imagined the car careening while I flailed my arms as he lunged, screeching, towards my face.

For one moment, his talons had scratched briefly against the box. Other than that, he didn’t make a sound.

The vet discovered that the hawk’s wing wasn’t just broken; it was rotting off. He was too badly injured to be healed. He had to be euthanized.

That hawk was the wildest creature I’ve ever encountered up close, without a thick plate of glass or bars between us. The experience was thrilling and humbling. Even half-dead, boxed up, and much smaller than his captor, he scared me. He showed me what “untamed” means.

Here we go again


Engraving, 1598

This month’s issue of National Geographic magazine features an article about human efforts to get to Mars. It has a gee-whiz tone about the technology involved, describes participants’ devotion to the quest and quotes justifications offered.

Its focus is limited to one question, put in big, bold type. “Everyone seems to agree: If humanity has a next great destination in space, Mars is it. But how attainable is it?”

No question is raised about whether we have the right to colonize and plunder another planet.

“…the spreading of life to what is now barren territory, is a morally desirable endeavor for reasons beyond how it benefits humanity,” according to the National Space Society  (NSS), whose corporate members include aerospace contractors and an adventure travel company.

Lucky Mars, to be the beneficiary of these generous imperialists (ed: strike that) forward-thinkers! Though survivors among colonized peoples may question whether it was life that was being spread or that their territory was barren, typically it became so after natural resources were extracted and much of the native population unfortunately perished upon contact with more civilized cultures.

Nobody knows whether there are living, sentient beings on Mars, or whether they’d want to share their planet, but let’s assume there are not. Why should we go?

Elon Musk, whose SpaceX company aims to land people on the Red Planet in 2025, believes a colony on Mars would be mighty handy in case some possibly self-inflicted catastrophe makes life on Earth less feasible for many. It’s not just for the bragging rights.

“There’ll be fame and that kind of thing for them,” he says. “But in the grander historical context, what really matters is being able to send a large number of people, like tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people, and ultimately millions of tons of cargo.”

But what would people do up there? Not to worry – there’ll be jobs on Mars!

“We can reduce the human population of Earth not by reducing the total human population,” (thank goodness!) “but by moving people to space settlements,” say the visionaries at NSS. “Much of our mining, agriculture, and industry can also be moved to space settlements.

“The Earth can largely become a very environmentally friendly wilderness area with some parks and places of historical interest.”

No doubt that adventure travel company with the NSS will be happy to arrange vacation transport back to Earth for anyone who can get several years off from the farm, factory or mine and scrape together the $500,000 fare.

Maybe the fare will include a souvenir “Occupy Mars” T-shirt, worn by SpaceX employees, which they probably think are tongue-in-cheek. Unless, as Musk suggests, they put it in a grander historical context.
























The landlord game


The latest applicant for a lease – let’s call him Mr. X – insisted I would not regret renting to him and his wife.

I very much wanted to rent to someone. The four-bedroom, two-bathroom mid-century modern he had just toured is the most expensive of the three houses I own. It had been vacant for two months, putting a considerable dent in my income.

Job loss, bankruptcies, piles of debt and the Great Recession created millions of foreclosed houses to be snapped up and potential tenants to fill them. Sounds like a slam dunk, right?

By the time Mr. and Mrs. X came along, a handful of people had filled out the seven-page application for a lease and agreed to let me run background checks on them. They included:

-A couple with six children who had racked up three evictions in 10 years and whose current landlord, asked if he’d rent to them again, said “Hell no;”

-A man whose application listed one year in prison for a drug offense that actually was two-and-a-half years for aggravated assault and being a felon in possession of a weapon, along with the drug charge;

-A guy who arrived in a Porsche and made lots of money, but had refused to pay a doctor’s bill until ordered to by a court;

-A couple with $125,000 in school and car loans and a history of uncollected debts who gave me a disconnected phone number for their current landlord;

-A couple who casually mentioned that occasionally, on weekends when they would be out of town, they would allow bridal parties of six to eight women use the house.

Other applicants had jobs that paid so little they would spend half of their monthly incomes on rent and utilities.

It’s hard asking people to bare their histories and submit to scrutiny, especially when the resulting judgment is, “not good enough.” They might be especially galled if they knew that not even I, the house’s owner, would qualify to rent it.

My income, cobbled together from rents and earnings as a pet sitter, isn’t high enough and fluctuates. The job market ejected me years ago. The lump sum of cash (from selling a life insurance policy I owned) that enabled me to buy foreclosed houses and fix them up was gone. I have no pension, no spouse and very little savings.

So I have to be picky about who I trust with the literal keys to my current and future financial security.

That didn’t prevent me from taking on tenants who had been in prison for stealing cars or who had declared bankruptcy. But they told me about these events upfront. There were no unpleasant surprises in their background reports. The former car thief had matured and reformed. The job loss and cancer that caused the other tenant’s bankruptcy had not been avoidable. They had good jobs and enthusiastic references from their landlords. I approved their applications.

Mr. X and his wife claimed a yearly income of $300,000 from her pension  and his business in Africa, but provided not a single document to verify this. No bank statement, list of pension benefits or tax return.

As it happened, Mr. X. was Nigerian. I tried not to think about the emails in which Nigerian strangers had assured me they were rich enough to pay me back for the little bit of financial help they needed immediately due to the unfortunate predicament they found themselves in through no fault of their own. Then I reviewed Mr. X’s background report. It revealed prison time for having failed to declare $1 million in income.

Several weeks after I turned down their application for a lease, Mr. X emailed me. Not to worry, they’d found a place, and if he’d been in my shoes, he wouldn’t have approved his application, either.


To silence a jerk, whose name will not be published here, ignore him

If someone bullies you with insults and mockery, as did a rival to Carly Fiorina – “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” –  you should:

A) call him on it using the words “sexism” or “offensive,” thereby demonstrating your weak, feminized, grievance-based victimhood;

B) get over it, toughen up and refuse to be an oversensitive ninny or a loser.

Option B is what one columnist urges Fiorina to choose when she faces that loudmouth tonight in the debate of Republican candidates for the party’s presidential nomination. According to the columnist, the loudmouth’s supporters like him because he has the balls to offend people. Those who object to being accosted by a jerk, whom the columnist describes as “walking testosterone,” simply invite further abuse and weary those who aren’t oversensitive losers.

What a great way to collude with abusers while burdening their targets with a phony stigma.

This view associates being a rude jerk with manliness, or at least with testosterone. Are there any men out there brave enough to dispute that, despite the risk of being jeered by rude jerks?

The best way for anyone to respond to such boorish behavior, writes the columnist, is to avoid using terms sneeringly deemed as “politically correct,” since that will only spur jerks on. But instead of hobbling one’s vocabulary, I suggest a different course: regal silence. Do not deign to acknowledge jerks.

Attention of any kind fuels them. Their greatest fear is to be ignored. Deal with them as you would a bad smell from someone deliberately and delightedly farting in a crowd. Ignore him until he and the smell go away.


Religion kills again

In Kabul, a mob of men killed a woman accused of having burned pages from the Koran. In Brooklyn, seven children burned to death after a hot plate malfunctioned and sent flames racing through the house. Their mother had left it on all night so she could warm food for them the next day. It was a way to circumvent religious restrictions on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.

Those children and the woman in Afghanistan, along with countless millions during human history, died because people confused obedience to rules of religion with moral behavior. Mindless adherence to arcane, arbitrary dictates never elevated anyone. But it does let those men in Kabul believe the murder they committed was sanctified, while the grieving parents in Brooklyn try to convince themselves that their loss was “God’s will,” instead of a choice that gave the physical hazard of a hot plate left on too long less importance than the perceived spiritual peril of cooking a meal.

In all cases of religious-based violence and suffering, the perpetrators thrust responsibility for the mayhem on the demands of obedience to rules or the failure of others to obey. It’s the victim’s fault, or part of a deity’s mysterious plan. In truth, we kill each other by our own choices in the here-and-now.

The way we treat others is the best measure of morality. And by that measure, religions have failed.

(This links to a 2-minutes video showing the Afghan victim being beaten and stomped:


The Gulfstream 550 Photo by

The Gulfstream 550
Photo by

A Bloomberg News article published Dec. 6 in the Chicago Tribune, “Luxury jets pamper pets with pilaf, room to roam,” raised hackles at the trade group for makers of the ultra-pricey business perks.

People might get the idea that private jets are just another wretched excess of the billionaire class.

The National Business Aviation Association begs to disagree.

“Studies have repeatedly shown that companies using business aircraft outperform comparable companies that don’t use the aircraft,” harrumphed its president.

He’s right. The NBAA paid for those studies, and that’s what they showed.

“The vast majority of entrepreneurs and businesses using these aircraft are doing so to increase their productivity and efficiency,” he wrote.  “They are like offices in the sky…”

Really? Cookie-cutter cubicles, a coffee pot nobody ever cleans, a break-room fridge full of aging leftovers – no, not that kind of office. Those are only for human resources, not for the high-value innovators who need much more costly incentives to motivate them.

As Forbes magazine noted, “In order to charter a Gulfstream 550 for a single hour, you’d need to work 1,192 hours at the Federal minimum wage of $7.25.”

Such a cost might seem sky-high to the average American. But costs are offset by tax deductions for these efficiency enhancing devices, thus creating more shareholder value (a euphemism for profit, much of which goes to executives with huge chunks of company stock).

Thus, taxpayers subsidize the use of these mobile penthouses and the “value” they bestow. This is capitalism, in which income is redistributed upward to the wealthy, rather than downward to the needy, as in socialism.

But it’s not just designer dogs and CEOs who benefit. Everybody does! If you need more evidence about the critical importance of private luxury jets, those “Lifelines for America’s small- and medium-sized towns,” those “Life savers for people in need,” check out this website from the NBAA:

Keep a barf bag handy.

Next on tap – the Chinese Museum of Clean Air?

The sign beneath this outdoor water pump at the Beijing Museum of Tap Water supposedly warns visitors not to drink the water.

The sign beneath this outdoor water pump at the Beijing Museum of Tap Water supposedly warns visitors not to drink the water.

China, you may have heard, has been on a building blitz of gigantic proportions. Apartment buildings, skyscrapers, business parks, gated communities, monuments, museums, theme parks – all the infrastructure needed for burgeoning masses of proletarians turned consumers.

Among all these oversized projects is the humble Beijing Museum of Tap Water. It’s a most peculiar choice of museum subject, given that nobody in that huge, populous country enjoys plumbing that delivers potable water.

That’s right. No drinkable tap water in the whole country.

Even after it’s boiled, there’s too much sediment to drink the stuff. Even with filters, it’s too risky to imbibe.  No filter can eliminate all the pollutants coming out of Chinese faucets, which include sewage, heavy metals, lead, rust, nitrates, nitrites, bacteria, viruses, parasites and extreme levels of chlorine.

According to the website, the museum’s tap-water objects “… are presented in front of the visitors who will truly understand that tap water is hard-earned.”

Imagine what sort of exhibits might be displayed in a Chinese Museum of Clean Air – photos of skylines doctored to scrub away the murky fog that passes for air, an assortment of face masks and sets of lungs blackened simply by breathing. 


Is it something in the water? Has heat addled their brains, or petrochemical pollution poisoned their perceptions? Instead of the strong, brave, hero types of Texan legend, we’re seeing two examples this week of Lone Star paranoia run amok.

texas secedes

First, we have the pathetic sight of Capitol security guards confiscating tampons and maxi-pads from the purses of women wanting to attend legislative debate on the state’s proposed abortion restrictions (which passed). Supposedly, guards had been tipped off that “proaborts” might fling feminine hygiene products at lawmakers.

Next, we learn that an anonymous donor paid the $500,000 bond set for 19-year-old Justin Carter after cops arrested him for a sarcastic Facebook post. When a fellow “League of Legends” gamer called Carter insane, Carter unwisely replied, “Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head, I’m going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still-beating hearts.”

For this, he was jailed for months after being charged with making a terroristic threat. He’s due in court for a hearing on Tuesday, July 16th.

No sir, Texans don’t cotton to sarcasm or assault with female unmentionables.

Now stupid remarks (ala Gov. Rick Perry) and letting gun-toting Texans exercise their Second Amendment rights with as few restrictions as possible, that’s different.

Let Texas go, as 100,000 people already have urged in a petition to the White House. And make it take Florida with it.





Me and my college boyfriend in 1972

Me at 20 with my college boyfriend in 1972

I was 28 the first time someone suggested I was no longer young.

He was an undergraduate at the university where I was a graduate student in journalism. We were waiting in lines to register for classes, as was done during those pre-digital days.

“Excuse me,” he said, “did you used to be a model?”

This was like asking a guy whether he used to be an athlete – a kind of back-handed compliment that hit the ego’s funny bone enough to twinge, but not so much as to hurt.

Until then, the question had always been “Are you a model,” something that started when I was 16 because I’d been tall and skinny during the Twiggy era and beyond. I never was a model, and although I’m still tall, my skinny days are long gone.

Next time the question of age came up, I wanted to score half off the price of a $12 lamp at Goodwill by taking advantage of its senior-citizen discount. The clerk didn’t think I looked old enough. She carded me to make sure I met the minimum age of 55.

My maternal grandmother, when that age, would not have been questioned. Her gray hair, shapeless house dresses and sensible shoes proclaimed her senior citizenship. My paternal grandmother, even with her dyed hair, manicured nails and stylish wardrobe, thought herself old when she hit 50.

I can’t imagine either of them would have been willing, at the age of 57, to take a job in Beijing for a year, as I did. They would have been physically able, but mentally unequipped.

“The very idea,” I can hear one of them say, “at my age!”

At the age of 61, I expect to live another 25 years or so. My parents, at 86 and 84, are unquestionably old, but they’re still active, pretty healthy and keenly attuned to current events.

When I reach that age, nobody will have to tell me I’m old. But I’m hoping that we Baby Boomers revolutionize old age as our demographic morphs into a Geezer Glut.

A few of my childless, single friends and I fantasize about eventually living together in a bad-old-broads commune. We’d pool our assets, buy a nice place where we could each have our own bedroom and bathroom, and divvy up chores according to ability and interest. At the end of each day, I’d be in a rocking chair on the porch or in front of the fireplace with a shawl around my shoulders, gumming a pot brownie while “Gimme Shelter” blasts through the earbuds of the latest audio gadget.

That’s my goal – to be old enough to know better, and still able to enjoy; to hear some whippersnapper in her 50s, shocked and appalled, scold me about being too old to behave like that.

Rock on, biddies, rock on.